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The Paleolithic Age

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


DW | Ancient Egypt

2.2 - The Paleolithic Age (c. 70,000-10,000 BC)


The Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, consisted of several stages: the Early Paleolithic Age, the Early Middle Paleolithic Age, the Late Middle Paleolithic Age, and the Late Paleolithic Age.

The Early Paleolithic Age spanned from 700,000 to 70,000 B.C. and was inhabited by Homo erectus. In relation to Ancient Egypt, the Nile River Valley was initially settled around 700,000 B.C. by people who likely migrated from the south when the climate was favorable. At that time, the region was lush and supported a diverse fauna similar to the Serengeti Plain.

The early human inhabitants of this period used language, practiced gathering food, controlled fire, and relied on a single tool—the hand axe. The hand axe was intentionally crafted to fit comfortably in the hand, specifically designed for smashing objects softer than itself. This intentional tool, dating back to 700,000 B.C., holds the distinction of being the oldest tool in human history.

Notably, progress during this era was slow. Unlike today's rapid advancements in technology, the hand axe remained the only tool for half a million years.


Around 70,000 B.C., during the Early Middle Paleolithic Age, a significant transition occurred with the appearance of Neanderthals. Contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals were not brutish savages. They buried their dead, cared for the injured and elderly, and developed more sophisticated flaking techniques for toolmaking. They crafted specialized tools such as scrapers for scraping and daggers for cutting meat. Many of these items have been discovered in the Egyptian Desert, providing further evidence of climatic changes.

Around 43,000 B.C., during the Late Middle Paleolithic Age, Homo sapiens emerged, marking the beginning of modern humans and the replacement of Neanderthals, although the specifics of this transition are still debated. In relation to Egyptians, these people settled near lakes and relied on mollusks and shellfish as part of their diet. Lake Tana in Ethiopia, which contributes to the Nile River, played a significant role during this period, causing flooding and inundation. Archaeological evidence suggests that groups of approximately 25-50 people lived together at a time. The life expectancy during this era was less than 30 years, illustrating the conditions of life in prehistoric times.

During the Late Paleolithic Age, spanning from 30,000 to 10,000 B.C., humans began to inhabit areas near swamps. Malaria became a prevalent issue, and the Nile River started to experience drying periods. Settlements featured clay hearths for cooking, grindstones for processing wild cereal grains, and pigments for eye make-up. However, farming and cattle breeding had not yet been established. Tools during this period were made from materials such as quartz, diorite, flint, and obsidian. The sickle, a crescent-shaped tool used for harvesting crops, was developed during this era. It is important to note that the sickle was used for intensively caring for wild grains rather than planting crops. Additionally, the bow and arrow were introduced during this time, revolutionizing hunting methods. The bow was the first weapon in history that stored energy, and the arrowheads used with it required a significant level of skill to produce. Archaeologists discovered small arrowheads known as "microtools" in Kom Ombo, Egypt, which were used for hunting birds and were the size of a thumbnail.

Interestingly, during the Late Paleolithic Age, the sickle disappeared for a couple of thousand years for reasons that remain unknown. Two prevailing theories suggest that the ease of hunting with the bow and arrow reduced reliance on wild crops, or that crop failures led to the decline of harvesting activities. The definitive cause of the sickle's disappearance remains a mystery.


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